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January 22, 2020

Making Work Visible at Parts Unlimited

By IT Revolution
Making Work Visible at Parts Unlimited

By author Dominica DeGrandis.


When Demand is Greater than Capacity

Rarely do I use the word always, except when it comes to requests on my time. Requests always exceed my capacity to meet the demand.

As I write this blog post, two other blog requests sit idle, along with two workshops to prepare for, and three books to read. They all need to be completed in the next two weeks. But, I am not alone in this regard.

Surveying Parts Unlimited, one of the top replies as to why work isn’t completed on time is that, “there is simply too much work to do”. The Phoenix Project isn’t done yet because people are drowning in work, largely due to Unplanned Work and Conflicting Priorities.

Maxine’s dev environment took how long to get? That’s because 45 different people have a part to play (Thief Unknown Dependencies at your service), and they all have different priorities.

Randy, Maxine’s boss, can’t approve Maxine’s Dev environment request (Unplanned Work) until the end of the day – after he’s finished with his higher priority meetings.

[bctt tweet=”Just like proper maintenance keeps cars in shape, maintenance for environments, databases and ways of working are needed too. #makingworkvisible” username=”dominicad”]

Likewise, Brent’s name shows up on more critical action items than anyone else and everyone seems to have him on speed-dial. He is constantly interrupted with Unplanned Work. It is not surprising that Brent has no capacity to work on features when he is fixing high-priority defects, stabilizing the codebase, and responding to outages most of the time.

When the oil in the vehicle is not changed regularly, disaster is inevitable.

Important But Neglected Work Calls for Revisiting Priorities

Just like proper maintenance keeps cars in shape, maintenance for environments, databases and ways of working are needed too.

Important non-functional requirements work (revenue protection work) can fall victim to Thief Neglected Work, if they are overpowered by the promise of revenue generation.

Important work morphs into urgent work as the neglected work evolves into an emergency – like the database meltdown during the Phoenix release – where the database migration took five hours to complete instead of the expected five minutes.

Unhealthy systems and infrastructure signal future decline from technical debt – the more debt, the longer it will take to deliver even the smallest change. Consider a prioritization strategy for company health to reduce debt from neglected services and infrastructure.

Investing in Debt Signals Future Momentum

Here’s how to get your organization out of the debt mess – reduce the cost from Thief Neglected Work by enabling teams to allocate time to make daily improvements, such as investing in the reduced reliance on big, centralized Phoenix databases.

Fixing debt is an investment in improving flow. Fixing debt includes fixing technical debt, cultural debt, and improving ways of working. Investment in debt has huge paybacks, but it requires consistent effort and is best done daily – just like exercise. Exercising 10 min daily is more beneficial than exercising for 90 minutes one day per week.

[bctt tweet=”Unhealthy systems and infrastructure signal future decline from technical debt #makingworkvisible” username=”dominicad”]

Make small improvements daily to reduce work evolving into urgent Unplanned Work. If the only time people have to do their most important work is late at night or on the weekend, you may find them updating their resumes or showing signs of exhaustion (a symptom of burnout).

How many people have left Parts Unlimited this month?

Enable WIP Limits for Debt & Daily Improvement Work

Allocate capacity for debt work and daily improvement items with Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits. Create a work item type for debt and set WIP limits for them. Track and measure to see the impacts of making time for improvements.

Are there less outages? Are employees happier?

It’s not that people aren’t talented – it’s that they are constantly interrupted. Leadership must support a strategy that allows staff to focus for 90 – 120 min at a time (several times a week, if not more) with no interruptions. This approach will help keep the mind from wandering and keep energy where it belongs – focused on completing important work. We lose creativity when we keep projecting forward into the future or back in time.

Maxine spends five hours in a one day attempting to build Phoenix while all stressed out. Remember, true creativity flows from a state of relaxation and openness, not from a state of stress.

Keep the time thieves away with a healthy prioritization strategy and WIP limits that allocate time for daily improvements.


Watch the full presentation below. (And download the slides here.)

Learn more about Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow.


Dominica DeGrandis is the foremost expert in Kanban Flow within the IT industry today. Her work has shown working IT teams how to effectively improve workflow and optimize throughput to produce the best result throughout the value stream. Her passion involves the use of visual cues and transparency across teams and organizations to reveal mutually critical information. As Principal Flow Advisor at Tasktop, Dominica combines experience, practice, and theory to help teams level up their capability. She blogs at ddegrandis.com and tweets at @dominicad.

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